Lenin on Dialectics An Introduction to The Philosophical Notebooks of Lenin Source: Introduction to The Philosophical Notebooks of Lenin, by Cliff Slaughter, 1962, Labour Press.
24/07/2013 by socialistfight
LENIN AND HEGEL
1961 marked the beginning of the publication in English of a new edition of the Collected Works. Of the greatest thinker of this century, V. I. Lenin. These writings will prove absolutely invaluable in the process, now beginning, of developing Marxist theory to .answer the revolutionary tasks of the working class in this and every other country. Just as Lenin made his enormous original contribution to theory as part of the construction of a revolutionary leadership at the beginning of the century, so theoretical development today will be made only as part of the living struggle to overcome the betrayals and the theoretical degeneration of the Social-Democratic and Stalinist movements. Overcoming the consequences of those betrayals is not a question of words, but of building an alternative leadership which can arm the working class with the developing theory required to achieve consciousness of its historic role and the necessary strategy of class struggle.
In reading Lenin, therefore, our aim is not to find recipes for our present problems, but to gain an insight into the method used by this outstanding thinker and political leader. With the use of this method Lenin made important discoveries about the nature of world capitalism and about the social relations and ideologies of his own time, particularly in Russia. These discoveries have received more study than the method itself, and yet Lenin’s use of the dialectical method was the key to his ability to analyse new stages in economic and political development, and to his mastery of political strategy and tactics. Future articles in LABOUR REVIEW will take up some of Lenin’s specific contributions in various fields. Here we are concerned primarily with his method of approach; all the volumes published so far could be used as illustrations of Lenin’s method, but the publication of his Philosophical Notebooks in English for the first time is a useful occasion for taking up the question more generally.
The Notebooks are not bedtime reading. Not one sentence in them was in any way prepared for publication. The text consists entirely of extracts taken by Lenin from various philosophical works and reviews, his underlinings in these extracts, and his own comments, usually very cryptic. Of most interest are the notes on Hegel’s Science of Logic and Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Anyone undertaking a systematic study of Lenin’s Notebooks will have to have beside him Hegel’s Logic; only in this way can one see the continuity between separate notes and extracts. Even without this, Marxist students will find many of Lenin’s brief notes very stimulating and worth detailed study. But these notes and extracts are part of a single project, and are therefore best taken as a whole, read through and reworked several times by the student in the light of his own knowledge of Marxism and of Lenin’s own writings and actions. Once he gets past Hegel’s Preface and introduction, Lenin writes: ‘I am in general trying to read Hegel materialistically . . .’ It is clear from his notes that his intention was to prepare the basis for a materialist exposition of the dialectical method which in Hegel remains in mystical form. A study of these notes clarifies greatly what Marx and Engels meant when they said that in order to arrive at a scientific method they had only to ‘stand Hegel on his head, or rather, on his feet‘.
LOGIC AND REALITY
Hegel insisted on a Logic which was not something separate from the reality which confronted man, a Logic which was identical with the richness and movement of all reality, a Logic which expressed the whole process of man’s growing consciousness of reality, and not just a dry summary of formal principles of argument, reflecting only one brief phase in the definition of reality by thinking men. Lenin notes:
What Hegel demands is a Logic the forms of which would be forms with content, forms of living, real content, inseparably connected with the content. Logic is the science not of external forms of thought, but of the laws of development “of all material, natural and spiritual things”. i.e., of the development of the entire concrete content of the world and of its cognition i.e. the sum-total, the conclusion of the history of knowledge of the world.
Lenin’s aim in ‘reading Hegel materialistically’ was to sift out the rational kernel of this Logic from the idealism in which it was constricted, for Hegel believed that only the ‘Absolute Idea’ had reality, expressing its necessary development in nature and history. When the highest product of this natural and historical evolution, critical philosophy, grasped consciously the truth of this process, then freedom replaced necessity. When Lenin ‘rewrites’ passages of the Logic, the relationship is inverted, without losing any of the brilliance and wealth of Hegel’s insight. Our concepts are the reflection, worked out in the history of logic and philosophy, of the objective world of nature grasped by social man in his practical struggle to survive and develop. The ‘leap from necessity to ‘freedom’ is then not a matter of philosophy, not a mental act, but a practical transformation of society and nature by men who have achieved consciousness of the social necessity of revolution.
Lenin lays great stress on Hegel’s insistence that Dialectics is not a. master-key; a sort of set of magic numbers by which all secrets will be revealed. It is wrong to think of dialectical logic as something that is complete in itself and then ‘applied’ to particular examples. It is not a model of interpretation to be learned, then fitted on to reality from the outside; the task is rather to uncover the law of development of the reality itself.
Logic is usually understood as being the “science of thinking”, the “bare form of cognition. Dialectics has often been considered an art, as though it rested upon a subjective talent and did not belong to the objectivity of the Notion …
So long as this is the approach then we do not get beyond the limits of formal logic, considered by Hegel to be dead and fixed, rigidly insisting on the separateness of the aspects of phenomena instead of on their transitions into one another. Hegel says logic must be ‘not abstract, dead and immobile, but concrete …’ and Lenin: ‘This is characteristic! The spirit and essence of dialectics!‘. Consequently it is absolutely against the spirit of dialectics to artificially impose the ‘triad’ of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis on whatever process one chooses to abstract. Hegel is most explicit:
That this unity, as well as the whole form of the method, is a triplicity is wholly, however, the merely superficial and external side of the manner of cognition.
He goes on to say that this ‘triad ‘, has been rendered tedious and of ill-repute by the shallow misuse and the barrenness of modern so-called philosophic construction, which consists simply in attaching the formal framework without concept and immanent. determination to all sorts of matter and employing it for external arrangement.
It is the logic of processes themselves- that must be exposed. Hegel says that dialectics has often been derided as an idle play with clever concepts, whose only aim is to sceptically demonstrate the difficulties and inconsistencies o£ ‘common sense’.
Dialectic is generally regarded as an external and negative procedure, that does not belong to the subject matter itself, that is based on pure vanity, as a subjective craving to shake and break down what is fixed and true, or that leads to nothing but the inaneness of the dialectically treated matter.
When Hegel here asks for method that ‘belongs the subject matter itself, he is not suggesting that only a description of what appears to the observer at first sight is required. Such descriptions are always couched in definite forms of thought, and are not ‘pure descriptions’. It is possible to record the external characteristics of phenomena, then to arrive at judgements ‘based’ on these observations which in fact are an imposition on the facts of some unexpressed assumption or theory. Dialectics attempts to probe to the essential self-movement of the phenomenon itself; the relations between its different aspects can then be shown as parts of a unified process, not just as separate determinations whose only interrelation is one imposed by the demands of consistency in thought. Hegel says:
The absolute method (i.e., the method of cognition of objective truth, says Lenin) does not behave like external reflection but takes the determinate element from its own subject matter, since it is itself that subject matter’s immanent principle and soul. This is what Plato demanded of cognition, that it should consider things in and for themselves, that is, should consider them partly in their universality, but also that it should not stray away from them catching at circumstances, examples and comparisons, but should keep before it solely the things themselves and bring before consciousness what is immanent in them.
This ‘catching at externals, examples and comparisons’ and ‘generalising’ from them often parades as scientific method, particularly in the study of society and politics. Instead of the law of development of things being discovered, we get instead a neat of ‘consistent’ arrangement of abstracted characteristics of similar phenomena. Lenin remarks on the sharpness of Hegel’s criticism of this method, extracting, for example, his verdict on
That procedure of knowledge reflecting on experience, which first perceives determinations in the phenomenon, next makes them the basis, and assumes for their so-called explanation corresponding fundamental materials or forces which are supposed to produce these determinations of the phenomenon . . .
What is advanced as an explanation of a thing turns out to be only Determination deduced from that for which they are meant to be the grounds hypotheses and figments derived by an uncritical reflection. Hegel’s dialectical method is often condemned as an accommodation to the status quo, with its insistence on the ‘identity of thought and the object’. But if the dialectic is properly understood it does not lead to any such conclusion. The following quotations explain clearly the dynamic and critical nature of dialectical knowledge, and incidentally illustrate well the process by which Lenin worked at the materialist reworking of Hegel’s Logic:
The identity of the Idea with itself is one with the process; the thought which liberates actuality from the illusory show of purposeless mutability and transfigures it into the Idea must not represent this truth of actuality as a dead repose, as a mere picture, lifeless, without impulse or movement, as a genius or number, or an abstract thought; by virtue of the freedom which the Notion attains in the Idea, the Idea possesses within itself also the most stubborn opposition; its repose consists in the security and certainty with which it eternally creates and eternally overcomes that opposition, in it meeting with itself.
Lenin, reading Hegel materialistically, substitutes: The coincidence of thought with the object is a process: thought (= man) must not imagine truth in the form of dead repose, in the form of a bare picture (image), pale (matt), without impulse, without motion, like a genus, like a number, like abstract thought. The idea contains also the strongest contradiction, repose (for man’s thought) consists in the firmness and certainty with which he eternally creates (this contradiction between thought and object) and eternally overcomes it.
Finally, Lenin rewrites the passage: Cognition is the eternal, endless approximation of thought to the object. The reflection of nature in man’s thought must be understood not “lifelessly”, not “abstractly”, not devoid of movement, not without contradictions, but in the eternal process of movement, the arising of contradictions and their solution.
LENIN BEFORE AND AFTER 1914
It is customary in some circles to claim that only when Lenin read Hegel in 1914-l5 did he grasp the dialectic; indeed it is fashionable to take this as proven. In his early writings Lenin is said to have been crude and mechanical; this crudeness is supposed to have been most explicit in his Materialism and Empiriocriticism (1908), but the implication is that his attitudes on Party organisation and political questions were rigid and dogmatic. It is important to see that this case is sustained on a very narrow base: instead of an examination of the actual work of Lenin, including Materialism and Empiriocriticism,. we are usually presented with truncated extracts from the latter work, which distort its meaning, or with a series of short quotations from the Notebooks which are supposed to show that Lenin renounced his philosophical past. Raya Dunayevskaya goes so far as to say: ‘It is under the section on ” Syllogism”, where Hegel destroys the opposition between subjectivity and objectivity that Lenin bursts forth with the aphorisms that reveal now decisive was his break with his own philosophical past.’ (Marxism and Freedom, 1958, my emphasis, C.S.)
In this passage the reference is to Lenin’s remarks On pp. 179 and 180 of the present edition, primarily the following: Marxists criticised (at the beginning of the twentieth century) the Kantians and Humists more in the manner of Feuerbach (and Buchner) than of Hegel. and It is impossible completely to understand Marx’s Capital, and especially its first Chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel’s Logic. Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!!
There is no examination of Lenin’s earlier works, only speculation that these passages imply a condemnation of Lenin’s past philosophical assumptions, i.e., that he includes himself among the ‘Marxists who did not understand Marx’. Now while there is no doubt that his reading of Hegel at the beginning of the First World War enriched Lenin’s theory, enabled him to penetrate more deeply to the essence of the contradictions of imperialism and of the working-class movement, it is quite wrong to make the rigid demarcation which is now so often made between the. ‘pre-Hegelian’ and ‘post-Hegelian’ phases of his political life. Rather there is a really dialectical development in Lenin’s own work. 1914 and his work towards the 19l7 Revolution and the construction of a new Communist International mark a new stage in the history of the movement, the stage when Lenin and his followers brought into the consciousness of a section of the working-class vanguard the reality of the new stage of Imperialism and the tasks with which it confronted the working class. Lenin’s study of Hegel is part of this advance, a necessary part of the process by which consciousness was advanced. Like every other advance in Marxism, it could only come from a man immersed in the intensive theory and practice of the living movement of society and politics for many years.
If Dunayevskaya had only looked at Lenin’s whole work with the same method which he outlines in Philosophical Notebooks; instead of formally comparing striking phrases in it with parts abstracted from other works written in different circumstances and with deliberately different emphases, then her work might have had some value to Marxism; but in fact she remains bogged down in the very formal method of which she accuses the early Lenin. Lenin could well have been pointing to bis own case when be quoted so admiringly the comparison made by Hegel. Lenin writes,
Logic resembles grammar, being one thing for the beginner and another thing for one who knows the language (and languages) and the spirit of language. It is one thing to him who approaches logic and the sciences in general for the first time and another thing for him who comes back from the sciences to Logic.
Then logic gives “the essential character of this wealth’; (the wealth of the world view), “the inner nature of spirit and of the world. Lenin is an experienced and accomplished revolutionary returning to Hegelian logic as logic; he brings to the task all the experience of 20 years’ struggle in the construction of a revolutionary party against tendencies reflecting the complex forces of Russian society, struggle accompanied always by a profound study of social reality and all the schools of thought expressing the interests of the classes in that reality. Thus his ‘reading’ of Hegel is full and rich, able to appreciate – and expose the manysidedness and depth of the dialectical method formally presented by Hegel. This new appreciation of the richness of the dialectical concept of knowledge was an important part of his insistence on theory and principle, on understanding the tasks of the working class and its leadership in those years when, as he himself put it, the thinking of some Marxists was ‘depressed and oppressed ‘ by the war to such a degree that they departed from the interests of the class they set out to represent, advocating instead theories which tied the proletariat to the ruling class in war.
The use of Philosophical Notebooks to discredit Lenin’s earlier work is a cover for a trend towards idealism in some critics. It becomes important to condemn Lenin’s exposition of the idea that knowledge is the reflection of objective reality, and implicitly or explicitly to condemn his concept of a ‘party of new type’ as a necessity for the socialist revolution. It is therefore necessary to dispose of claims such as Dunayevskaya’s that ‘The keynote of his Philosophical Notebooks is nothing short of a restoration of truth to philosophic idealism against vulgar materialism to which he had given the green light with his work on Materialism and Empiriocriticism.’
Dunayevskaya naturally quotes Lenin’s aphorism: ‘Intelligent idealism is closer to intelligent materialism than stupid materialism’ (He rewrote this to read: ‘Dialectical idealism is closer to intelligent [dialectical] materialism than metaphysical, undeveloped, dead, crude, rigid materialism.’ LCW38_277.) But it is nonsense to suggest that Lenin revised his opinions on the general relationship between materialism and idealism. On page 293 of the Notebooks, he writes, after the notes on Logic, after the quotation so beloved of the idealists, the following: Hegel completely concealed (NB) the main thing: (NB) the existence of things outside the consciousness of man and independent of it’. (LCW38_293)
It was to hammer home precisely that this was ‘the main thing’ that Materialism and Empiriocriticism was written, in answer to a group of ‘Godseekers’ in the Russian Party, in 1908. In his notes on Hegel, Lenin’s concern is, rather, explicitly to sift out the rational kernel of the method of this greatest idealist, and to show that consistent ‘objective idealism’ takes philosophy to the very eve of historical materialism. But only to the eve; Dunayevskaya does not quote any of Lenin’s spirited sallies at Hegel’s failure to leave idealism behind, even though they are liberally scattered through the Notebooks. A small sample will suffice:
The mystic – idealist – spiritualist Hegel (like all official, clerical-idealist philosophy of our day) extols and expatiates on mysticism, idealism in the history of philosophy, while ignoring and slighting materialism. Cf. Hegel on Democritus-nil!! On Plato a huge mass of mystical slush.’ (pp. 281-2) And a mass of thin porridge ladled out about God. (LCW38_303)
Here in Hegel is often to be found about God, religion, morality in general extremely trite idealistic nonsense.’ (LCW38_309) And in many places Lenin takes Hegel to task for ‘concealing the weaknesses of idealism’ (LCW38_289), ‘a sophistical dodge from materialism’ (LCW38_289), ‘a cowardly evasion of materialism’ (LCW38_258), and ‘he pities God!! the idealistic scoundrel ! ! ‘ (LCW38_295).
That this condemnation of idealism does not stop Lenin from taking the very most from Hegel’s logic is a tribute to his great intellectual acuteness combined with an unrelenting partisanship. It is quite foreign to the spirit of his work to quote him selectively in order to convey the impression that he ‘ broke with his philosophical past’. He did nothing of the kind, and Materialism and Empiriocriticism will retain its significance as a brilliant statement of the materialist foundations of Marxism against pseudo-scientific ‘realism’. The presentation of similar problems in the Notebooks is a refinement but by no stretch of the imagination a rejection of the work of 1908.
THE ROLE OF CONSCIOUSNESS
If we examine even the earliest works of Lenin on social and political questions, it is difficult to see any justification for the view of Dunayevskaya that before 1914 Lenin did not really grasp the concept of unity of opposites, that he saw the opposite sides of phenomena simply coexisting alongside each other rather than interpenetrating and determining each other. She has to admit that in his political practice Lenin showed a grasp of dialectics, but this appears to have been ‘unconscious’, while in his thoughts Lenin remained rigid and mechanical. Quite apart from the comic aspect of this division, it can be shown that Lenin’s writings are thoroughly imbued with the dialectical method, studying processes in their totality and in their development, with a bitter struggle against those who, like the Narodniks, abstracted separate features of society and appraised them with some set of abstract norms. Any number of quotations from What The Friends of the People Are or The Economic Content of Narodism would illustrate Lenin’s grasp, already in 1896, of ‘the unity of opposites’. A summary of Lenin’s method against the Narodnik sociologists will perhaps be useful. These Narodniks sought to defend small peasant property, particularly as part of the Russian-village commune. In order to do this they made. a study of the condition of this section of producers, their holdings, the impact on them of other classes and of government policy, etc., and they often gave harrowing accounts of the effect of commerce in driving the independent peasant to misery.
Lenin pointed out that a study. of land ownership alone, and even a burning and partisan account of the misery of the peasants, were no substitute for beginning with an analysis of the whole economic structure which determined the dominant trends and relationships in Russian society. The sector of that society which the Narodniks chose to defend by exposing its misery was not an alternative to the actually developing economic conditions, except in their minds. Only by seeing small peasant ownership as one ‘moment’ in the development of the structure of the very conditions they deplored could they ever understand it, i.e., bring their theoretical concepts into line with the actual economic development. Clearly this is only an example of the principle expounded by Lenin (and Hegel) in the quotations at the beginning of this article. So long as the Narodnik sociologists remained at the level of abstract criticism of the ruin of small peasant farming, then they in fact supported the dominant classes in the status quo. How could Lenin call their criticism of existing conditions abstract when the works they produced were packed with data about conditions of peasant life? Because ‘small peasant farming’ was abstracted from its actually developing context in the economic structure, a context in which it is necessarily tied to all those aspects which the Narodniks abstracted and called ‘negative’. The result of this mistaken method was political impotence. Narodism rejected the basic fact of conflict between labour and capital, but ‘through the prism – of the living conditions and interests of the small producer, and therefore did so in a distorted and cowardly way, creating a theory which did not give prominence to the antagonism of social interests, but to sterile hopes in a different path of development’.
But Lenin took up the cudgels against some of the so-called Marxists like Struve, as well as against the Narodniks. It is worth dwelling on his criticism of Struve’s ‘objectivism’, as it leads us to a vital point, the role of human consciousness and the relation between theory and practice. Lenin’s consistent attack on ‘objectivism’ in the early writing gives the lie to those critics who claim that he neglected human agency in his pre-l914 theory. Although Struve correctly criticised the Narodniks for their defence of backwardness, he ended up by becoming an apologist for the advance of capitalism, rather than a Marxist able to analyse its contradictions. Lenin attacked him for seeing technical progress ‘on the one hand ‘ as progressive, and bondage ‘on the other hand ‘ as regressive, a brake on technical progress.
These two are phases of the same development of capitalism: His bondage which he has now demolished as retrogressive is nothing but the initial manifestation of capitalism in agriculture, of that very same capitalism which leads later to sweeping technical progress, etc.
What is lacking in Struve is the standpoint of a given class in the basic class contradiction of society: The main feature is narrow objectivism which is confined to proving the inevitability and necessity of the process and makes no effort to reveal at each specific stage of this process the form of class contradiction inherent in it an objectivism that describes the process in general, and not each of the antagonistic classes whose conflict make up the process, though he correctly indicates the existence of a process, he does not examine what classes arose while it was going on, what classes were the vehicles of the process, overshadowing other strata of the population subordinate to them; in a word, the author’s objectivism does not rise to the level of materialism.
This objectivism leads Struve to pose problems in a non-class way that is not without parallel in political thinking today. For example, he asks, ‘In what way, on what basis, can our national economy be reorganised?’ and Lenin replies, “Our national economy” is a capitalist economy, the organisation and reorganisation of which is determined by the bourgeoisie, who “manage” this economy. Instead of the question of possible re-organisation, what should have been put is the question of the successive stages of the development of this bourgeois economy.
Lenin, in other words, demands an approach which sees all the ‘aspects’ of the process as necessarily interconnected parts of the whole, developing in necessary opposition; further, the analysis offered must be seen as part of the consciousness of the representatives of the social classes opposed to one another in the developing process, with the characteristic distortions of each class, only the point of view of the working class being able to sustain a scientific view of the unity and general development of the whole system. Here are the very real bases of Lenin’s whole theoretical and practical approach in politics, bases upon which he built prodigiously for 25 years.
The 1905 Revolution was a forcing-house for the political development of Russian Socialist thinking, as well as a decisive step forward in the experience of the working class itself. Lenin showed in his writings of that period that he did not have to wait until l914 to be able to pose very clearly the difference between dialectical and ‘vulgar’ materialism in the prominence given to conscious action. In his Two Tactics of Social Democracy, Lenin condemns that method which offers a general description of the process (and) does not say a word about the concrete tasks of our activity. The new Iskra-ist method of exposition reminds one of Marx’s reference (in his famous Theses on Feuerbach) to the old materialism which was alien to the ideas of dialectics…. They degrade the materialist conception of history by ignoring the active, leading and guiding part in history which can and must be played by parties which understand the material prerequisites of a revolution and have placed themselves at the head of the advanced classes.
All this reads very strangely beside Lunayevskaya’s suggestion that only in 1914 did Lenin consciously understand the role of consciousness and the role of the masses in history. Lenin had already written in exile in 1897 a very direct characterisation of the connection between the Narodniks’ lack of scientific method and their relation to the action of the masses. This quotation rounds off this section of the argument: their lack of sociologlcal realism impels them to a specific manner of thinking and reasoning about social affairs and problems which might be called narrow self-conceit or, perhaps, the bureaucratic mentality. The Narodnik is always dilating on the path “we” should choose for our country, the misfortune that would arise if “we” directed the country along such-and-such a path, the prospects “we” could ensure ourselves if we avoided the dangers of the path old Europe has taken, if we “take what is good” both from Europe and from old ancient village community system, and so on and so forth. Hence the Narodnik’s complete distrust and contempt for the independent trends of the social classes which are shaping history in accordance with their own interests … As man’s history-making activity grows broader and deeper, the size of that mass of the population which is the conscious maker of history is bound to increase. The Narodnik however, always regarded the population in general, and the working population in particular, as the object of this or that more or less sensible measure, as something to be directed along this or that path and never regarded the various classes of the population as independent history-makers on the existing path, never asked which conditions of the present path might stimulate (or, on the contrary, paralyse) the independent and conscious activity of these history-makers. (my emphasis, C.S)
THEORY AND PRACTICE
It is only on the basis of ‘seeing the existence of objective reality independent of human consciousness as ‘the main thing’ that Lenin is able to make the great contribution on reflection and cognition as an active process, not as a dead mirroring, which he does in the Notebooks. Only a materialist understanding of the active role of human practice in the real world could form the basis for the richness of Lenin’s conceptions, for it is from that real world that the infinitely expanding and enriched truth of human understanding is derived. If Lenin had written a book on dialectics based on the Notebooks, it would have been a presentation of the lines of growth of this human knowledge, the process by which man has continuously developed new processes of learning about the real world through his practice and through the development of thought. Every aspect of the development of techniques, of philosophy and social science, must be viewed as part of this process by which man’s concepts become more and more ‘filled with content’. This implies that every aspect of the history of thought and philosophy is viewed not abstractly, negatively from the point of view of the number of right and wrong elements contained in it, but in its own concrete development, and as part of the whole of human progress. Secondly, it implies the complete denial of dogmatism in theory. There is not a fixed truth, a secret of the world to be one day finally discovered, and our ‘true’ concepts about the reality we know are only true insofar as they express the changing character of the reality concerned, together with the change and flexibility of our own concepts, whose limitations are revealed by every experience and advance in thought. Lenin heavily underscores the following passage: Hence, Hegel says, the expression “unity” of thinking and being, of finite and infinite, etc., is false, because it expresses “quietly persisting identity”. It is not true that the finite simply neutralises the infinite and vice versa. Actually, we have a process.
Hegel insists that thought must not imagine, once it gets beyond appearance to essence, that it has done its work. On the contrary, the discovery of truth is an infinite process, and the concepts which reflect it are the developing modes of a deeper and deeper penetration of that reality. Lenin says briefly: ‘The coincidence of thought with the object is a process.’ Man does not arrive at the truth, at ‘repose’ in his relation to truth, by simply reaching conclusions about it. Man’s thought is relaxed. developing freely, in ‘repose’, only through the denial of repose, only through ‘the firmness with which he eternally creates the contradiction between thought and object and eternally overcomes it’. This view of the relation between concepts and reality is brilliantly formulated, and to grasp this relation is the essence of Marxist politics as of any other science. Let us take as an example the problem which often arises in the day-to-day work of Marxist organisation, So long as the ‘truth’ about politics is thought to consist of some fixed secret of Marxist doctrine, some set of recipes, then reality proves very intractable indeed, constantly facing the revolutionary with frustrations, ‘disappointments’ and ‘disillusionments’. Methods of work become inconsistent and moody, in a word, subjectivist. But if there is constant and conscious effort to probe and learn from reality, from the living movement, and on the deeper and deeper theoretical understanding flowing from this to base the Party’s activity and organisation, a thirsting for enrichment by penetration of living reality, then the result is different. Although this looks more ‘difficult’, less ‘sure’ constantly re-examining its own assumptions, yet it gives rise to steadiest, more relaxed methods of work, real ‘repose’ resting on strength, by virtue of the security and certainty and determination with which the learning, penetrating, questing process is organised, in order to fill our concepts with objective content. This is the process of creating and overcoming the contradiction between our ideas and objective reality.
The reflection of nature in man’s thought must be understood not “lifelessly”, not “abstractly”, not devoid of movement, not without contradictions, but in the eternal process of movement, the arising of contradictions and their solution
The implications of this view of cognition, of the process by which men have gained and will continue to gain knowledge of the truth, for a Marxist view of the history of philosophy, are pointed out by Lenin in some very stimulating short passages, particularly in the fragment, On the Question of Dialectics, which has appeared previously in English, but will be much more meaningful now that it can be compared with the earlier notes which prepare for it.
Lenin very specifically says that the self-movement of things through the struggle of opposites is the science of dialectics. This is the logical consequence of the understanding that dialectics is the selfmovement of reality, and of the concepts reflecting reality, and not an external logic which imposed its own distinctions and comparisons on reality. Dialectics is the theory of how reality sorts itself out, with growing human knowledge seen as the latest development of this reality, rather than a way of sorting out reality. Hegel is quoted by Lenin to this effect:
Thinking reason, however, sharpens, so to say, the blunt difference of diverse terms, the mere manifoldness of pictorial thinking, intoessential difference, into opposition. Only when the manifold terms have been driven to the point of contradiction to they become active and lively towards one another, receiving in contradiction the negativity which is the indwelling pulsation of self-movement and spontaneous activity
It is not necessary to mention here the occasions on which Lenin applied this approach to political questions in such a way that he was constantly condemned for doctrinairism and factionalism. Right through the history of Russian Social Democracy he fought bitterly its petty-bourgeois and intellectual wing, expressing itself first through Struve and the ‘legal Marxists’, then in Plekhanov’s subjectivism and ‘circle’ spirit and the Menshevik objection to proletarian conceptions of organisation, in the ultra-left ideas which sprang up during the years of reaction, through to the struggle against liquidationism and the weakness of those who ‘conciliated ‘ the reformists rather than fight to establish the independence of the working class against them. As Trotsky later acknowledged, he and others took for pettiness and crudeness what in fact amounted in Lenin to political necessity, based upon a method of proceeding from the basic contradictions facing the movement. Again, later articles will take up some of these important points.
It is vital to see the unity between Lenin’s political career and his dialectical method. To his iron insistence on principle, even at the expense of personal and organisational difficulties which horrified those with more impressionistic methods, Lenin carried into practice the idea that the working class must decide its own fate, must place the achievement of its political independence through a revolutionary party before all partial considerations. Political and theoretical vacillations, subjective reactions to difficulties and to discipline, these were not separate or partial questions; they had to be analysed and decisively dealt with from the point of view of building a movement in the concrete conditions of Russia Lenin’s study of Hegel in 1914-15 helped to heighten his awareness of the universality and depth of this method and so equipped him for the even greater task of reorienting the socialist movement of whole world This could not be done on an empirical basis alone. The facts studied for Lenin’s Imperialism and his work on the Second International and the Russian Revolution were selected and had meaning only in the framework of the dialectical method roughly drafted in the Notebooks, with its stress on the interconnection of all . aspects of phenomena, the identity of opposites, the need to go deeper and deeper into the practice of men in changing Nature and themselves. A return to the study of Lenin’s practice and method today is an essential part of the solution of our revolutionary tasks.
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